Article: How Fears are Made

by Seann “LizardBite” Barbour

 

THE SET-UP

It was the winter of 2011. Well, actually, no. The story starts a bit earlier. It was the fall of 2010. I was a freshman in college, I had a job working on a construction site (which I got thanks to my dad– hooray for nepotism!), and I was utterly entranced by a series of videos I had recently found on YouTube.

What videos you ask? Well, Marble Hornets of course! The series that introduced countless people to the being known as the Slender Man. I was enthralled by the terrifying story this series told, and soon I began to hunt down more Slender Man content. I watched other YouTube series, read the blogs that told Slender Man stories. During this time, I entrenched myself in the so-called “Slenderverse.” It didn’t take long before I decided I needed to create my own work in this mythos.

Cut to a month or two later. January of 2011. I had a plan. I would create my own YouTube series: “The 757”, and furthermore, it would not solely be about the Slender Man. No, this series would introduce a new monster. A rival to Slender Man. This series would introduce the Archangel.

Well, as you can probably guess, “The 757” never got made. Instead, a heavily re-edited version of that story became the blog Eccentrically Bored, my first Slenderblog and my first Fearblog. In fact, it was one of the first Fearblogs, period. The Fear Mythos wasn’t even a thing when I started writing it.

Most people involved with this mythos probably know the story: the Fear Mythos was born on the TV Tropes forum, in the thread about the Slender Man mythos. By sheer coincidence, three different people in that thread were starting their own Slenderblogs featuring their own monsters. These became the first Fearblogs (Still Remains Within, Eccentrically Bored, and brighter than a spoon), and the monsters became the first Fears (The Dying Man, the Archangel, and the Cold Boy).

I have been involved in this mythos since the beginning. I am the administrator of the Fear Mythos forum. I created the first Fear Mythos video game. In fact, of the current crop of Fears, I created four of them.

And that, finally, brings me to what I really want to write about here. How I created those four Fears. What I drew inspiration from. How they changed and grew as I worked on them.

My Fears, in order of their creation, are the Archangel, the Empty City, the Eye, and the Intrusion.

So, since I already brought it up, let’s start with the Archangel.

THE ARCHANGEL

As I already mentioned, the Archangel was originally intended to be the Slender Man’s rival. The two would be caught in an epic game of wits, with humans as the pieces (you may recognize that this idea eventually became the “Grand Game” in the Fear Mythos). Where the Slender Man would have been described as “the Terror of Life”, the Archangel would have been “the Terror of Death.”

And that’s the brunt of what the Archangel really is: death. More than anything else, death is the concept that is most closely related to the Archangel. Yes, technically the Dying Man is the Fear of Death, and the Archangel represents religious fears, but do remember that this Fear was created before we’d even come up with that system. They weren’t even called Fears yet when the Archangel was born. They didn’t represent anything. Their only purpose was to scare.

So what inspired the Archangel? Well, I didn’t realize at the time, but looking back it became obvious what had inspired me to create it: the First Evil from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You see, in the show, the First Evil was, well, exactly what it sounds like. It was the Buffyverse version of Satan. It was the origin of everything bad in the world.

And it did it look like? Nothing. It had no form of its own. Instead, it took the form of others. It took the form of the dead.

Sound familiar?

That’s not to say that the two are exactly alike. The First Evil was incorporeal. It couldn’t interact with the world, so it had to enforce its will through agents. The Archangel was not bound by that rule. The Archangel was perfectly capable of interacting with the world, and while it preferred manipulation and trickery, it could also get its hands dirty when the situation called for it.

And when the Archangel had to get physical? It got brutal. One thing I’ve noticed many people comment on is the fact that the Archangel uses normal weapons. I don’t really know why I decided to write it like that. Perhaps, on some level, I knew that that characteristic would draw a closer parallel to humanity. Why would I want to draw such a parallel? I blame Gas Mask. That form is basically a Slasher movie villain, so of course the Archangel would use such weapons in that form.

Which of course brings me to “Gas Mask” himself. He is the most common, iconic appearance of the Archangel. A man in a black hoodie and a gas mask. Very simple. Very minimalistic. Why did I choose such an appearance for such a grand, otherworldly monstrosity? Well, remember when I said that the Archangel was originally intended for a YouTube series? Yeah, the entire reason for Gas Mask’s existence is that it was a costume I could easily put together on a budget.

Now let’s close the Archangel part of this article by talking about what the Archangel actually is. The Archangel is the afterlife. It wouldn’t be for over a year before I probably addressed this revelation in-universe. Oh sure, it was a great twist in Eccentrically Bored, but I didn’t really do anything with, now did I?

But, in my most recent blog (which will also be my final Fearblog), The Thirteenth Apostle, I did address it, and in the blog, I used the main protagonist, the devout Catholic, Matthias, to explain, essentially, how the Archangel came to be the afterlife.

While death is a major part of the Archangel, religion is too (obviously). When I created the Archangel, I designed it to be, essentially, a corruption of religion. And since I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, the Archangel is a corruption of Catholic dogma in particular.

You see, in Catholicism, God doesn’t cast anyone into Hell, and Hell is not a place of fire and brimstone and torture. Hell is merely an existence without God, and since all life comes from God, it is an empty and pitiful existence. People place themselves in Hell by pushing themselves away from God. By contrast, Heaven is an existence with God. It is perfectly blissful because God, the source of all life and goodness, is right by your side.

Well, that’s the Archangel. Except that, when the Archangel is the afterlife, “God” is evil and uses you for whatever purposes it deems necessary. This corruption of religion theme is also present in the Twin Triangles, which I created simply by taking a Star of David, and adjusting the triangles a bit, thus creating a completely new symbol (by coincidence, others have noticed a similarity between the Twin Triangles and an hourglass, thus symbolizing death).

THE EMPTY CITY

Now let’s talk about the Empty City. This was my second Fear and, out of them all, it’s the one that changed the least from the original concept. In fact, only one thing changed during the creation process, and that’s the name.

Unlike the Archangel, the Empty City was created after the Fear Mythos was already underway. In fact, by the time the Empty City came about, we had already established the idea that the Fears were, well, Fears. However, this idea was still young and hadn’t really been hammered out yet, which is probably how the Empty City as able to be accepted in the first place. Nowadays, I doubt any Fear representing something as vague as “being lost” would be accepted into the mythos.

So what spawned the Empty City? What could possibly have inspired such a creature? Simple, I was reading House of Leaves at the time. That’s really all there is to it.

If you’ve never read it, House of Leaves is a very… bizarre novel. It’s about a tattoo artist who finds an essay about a film. No, actually, the book is the essay about the film. Except that it’s also about the people in the film. Like a said, it’s weird.

The premise of that third plotline is that family moves into a house, and the house doesn’t obey normal laws of geometry. One day they come home to find a closet that wasn’t there before. While looking over the plans to figure out how this happened, they discover that the house is ever so slightly bigger on the inside than it is on the outside (less an inch bigger, actually). But things really take a turn to the horrifying when a door appears in their living room. A door that, from its placement, should lead outside, but instead opens up into a long dark tunnel, which in turn opens up into even more dark tunnels, spiraling into an infinite labyrinth, where something unseen but not unheard resides.

Obviously, it doesn’t take a genius to see the similarities between the House and the Empty City. But what really struck about the novel was the implication that the house was alive. That it was, somehow, an organism in its own right. And that’s when the idea of the Empty City formed in my head. What if I took the basic idea behind the House, stripped out the minotaur stuff, and applied it to a whole city? I posted my idea to the Fear Mythos thread on TV Tropes, calling it “The City” and labeling it as the fear of being lost because it seemed like these “fear of” idea wasn’t going away any time soon.

The others in the thread liked it, and after a brief discussion, it was named the Empty City, and thus a fear was born.

The next Fear I created was the Eye, but I’m going to save that one for last. Instead, we’ll jump ahead to my fourth and final Fear: the Intrusion.

THE INTRUSION

It’s common for people to join the Fear Mythos forum and immediately propose a new Fear, only for other users to point out that we already have a Fear that does whatever it is this new Fear does. In early days of the mythos, overlap wasn’t a problem (and that explains the Black Dog, who was a very early Fear), but, as of this writing, there are currently 22 “official Fears” and it looks like Red Cap is about to become number 23. Naturally, too many Fears will just make everything confusing and weird, so now we tend to encourage new writers to experiment with current Fears rather than just create their own.

Why do I bring this up? Well, because the Intrusion is an example of a Fear that almost fell into this trap, and I had to work to avoid falling prey to it.

The Intrusion began life after certain other Fearbloggers (*coughdjaycough*) expressed joy that we had no fear of bugs, since bugs scared the hell out of them. I of course took this as a challenge.

The Intrusion was probably the most difficult of the four to create. You see, when I set out to create a fear of bugs, I realized I had two options of available to me: giant bug and swarm of bugs (incidentally, the restrictiveness is a major reason why you shouldn’t start creating a Fear by deciding what it will represent. It limits your options too much). I decided that a giant bug would be hard to take seriously, so I went with the swarm. And therein lay the first problem: We already had a Fear that was a large group of animals– the Convocation.

Now, the Convocation was one of the first Fears proposed, and has gone through a LOT of changes. They went from being Thunderbirds to Terrorbirds to back to Thunderbirds, and then we decided that they’d just be a flock of regular birds with evil intellect and electrical powers. So we found a list of terms for different groups of animals and tossed around a few ideas (“The Flock,” “The Murder,” etc) before settling on “the Convocation.” By the time I sat down to create the Intrusion, the Convocation was already a well-established Fear, and I didn’t want to retread old ground. I needed to come up with a way to set my new bug fear apart from this bird fear.

So, keeping in mind that this is supposed a horror mythos, I turned to the greatest source of horror the world has ever known: reality.

The Intrusion was designed to be more “realistic” than other Fears. Well, realistic isn’t quite the right word. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Intrusion was meant to have more verisimilitude than other Fears. For inspiration, I looked at the behaviors of actual insects in the real world, and those parasitic beings who incubate in the bodies of others were what really caught my eye (contrary to what some may tell you, the human botfly was not the main source of inspiration for the Intrusion; it was born, appropriately enough, from many, many bugs).

So I decided that my new Fear would be a mass of bugs that lay their eggs in people. But what would happen when the eggs hatch? Well, I thought, what are some common elements to the fear of bugs?

The first answer was obvious: crawling. Humans have a basic, instinctual reaction to feeling like something is crawling over them. We go into a very brief panic and flail to get the bugs off when we feel them (this is, in fact, why we evolved being ticklish– it was a defense mechanism against poisonous bugs). Hell, I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s imagined the sensation of something crawling over my skin when I read about bugs.

But what’s creepier than bugs crawling over your skin?

“CRAAAAWLING IN MY SKIIIIIIIIIIN!”

Sorry. I promise I won’t do that again.

The idea of people believing bugs to be crawling under their skin is nothing new. The anime series Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni used the idea to great effect by introducing a disease that made people believe there were maggots in their skin, so they’d ultimately claw their own throats out trying the get the maggots out. In the real world, there is a psychological condition called “delusional parasitosis”, which is exactly what it sounds like (people believe they are infected with non-existent parasites).

I drew on this imagery to create the Intrusion. When the bugs went to lay their legs, rather than bore holes into the victim’s skin, they’d crawl into whatever opening they could (this also gave the Fear a disturbing connection to the act of rape). When the eggs hatched, you’d have a bunch of bugs crawling around inside of you.

And what would happen next? Well, I reasoned, the bugs need food. So I decided that they would eat their way out.

Finally, I needed a name. Originally I was going to call them “the Swarm,” but that name has been used so many times. Same for “the Hive.” So, I did what we did when we named the Convocation. I consulted a list of names for groups of enemies and, lo and behold, there it was. The perfect name. A group of cockroaches is called an Intrusion, and that name fit the Fear perfectly.

…because they intrude. On your insides. GET IT?

THE EYE

The Eye is… an odd Fear. It is both an example of a Fear that was rushed out the door before it was quite ready, and a Fear that was a long time coming.

You may recall that I was a freshman in college when the Fear Mythos began. Well, keep that in mind when I say that the basic premise of the Eye first appeared in my mind when I was in the eighth grade.

I was young. I was in what was probably the worst part of my life (middle school was NOT kind to me). I was angry. Now, there is a natural pleasure people take in watching the bad people be punished. It’s a cathartic experience. The concept that would eventually grow into the Eye was a beast known as the Retributionist. I actually wrote a poem about it, which was basically “Jabberwock” except without the nonsense words, so on reflection it really didn’t have much of a point (I have no idea where the original poem is and can’t remember the words, so don’t ask).

The idea was that there was a town plagued by a monster called the Retributionist, which enforced a strict moral code, and anyone who broke the code was killed. The Retributionist was a large, fleshy creature, with bat-wings, a long tail with a blade on the end, four feet that extended into scythe-like claws, and a single giant eye that rested just above its huge mouth, which was filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth. But what made the monster truly terrifying was that it was invisible. In fact, usually the only way to see what it looked like was to watch someone break the law, and suddenly burst into pieces. The blood splattering over the Retributionist’s body would reveal the creature’s outline.

In the poem, a traveler eventually came and set a trap for the Retributionist, staging a fight while his wizard friend prepared a spell to strip the monster’s invisibility away. It worked, and the hero killed the beast.

So, it was really a pretty standard story. But still, it was a story that stayed in my mind, and, eventually, a very different story came up.

In high school, I re-used the term “Retributionist” for a new idea. This time, it was the nickname of a heroic character. Cer, the Retribitionist, was a fantasy hero of the stoic variety. He had the unique power to take pain away from one person, and transfer it to another. He used this power to punish the wicked wherever he went, and was something of a folk hero. I’ll stop the explanation there, because this is an article about the Fear Mythos, and explaining an epic and unwritten fantasy story is not what I wrote this article to do.

The point is that, with both the characters I named “Retributionist”, you saw a very different interpretation. The original was a monster, who operated under a philosophy of all crimes being equal and terrorized those around it. Cer, by contrast, was a heroic character, just trying to do good in the world… or so he became. Originally, Cer existed solely for the cathartic value of having a nice easy way to punish horrible people.

Which brings me to the Eye and my big mistake: The Eye was created based around that second philosophy, and then I feebly tried to pass it off as the first. Even the very first creepypasta I wrote for it, aptly titled “The Eye”, relied less on the Eye itself and more on the broader fear of what the people you interact with online are actually like (a beloved member of a forum community turns out to be a rapist).

From there, the Eye was rather haphazardly thrown together. When it marks its victims, they start to see eyes growing all over the place, watching them. When it comes after you, it possesses someone and attacks you. OK. Not really much else to it.

I admit it, I am embarrassed to have created the Eye.

And that’s why, before I conclude my final Fearblog, I have decided to fix my mistake. In The Thirteenth Apostle, the Eye will be reinterpreted into something more terrifying.

I am a fan of the Silent Hill series of videogames. One of the most iconic monsters in the series is Pyramid Head, a hulking brute of a man who carries a huge knife and wears a metal, triangular helmet. Due to his popularity, Pyramid Head has evolved into a sort of mascot for the franchise, but in his original appearance, in Silent Hill 2, he had a very specific role. Pyramid Head was the protagonist, James’, guilt made manifest. He was a monster born from James’ sub-conscious belief that what he had done was unforgivable, and that he needed to be punished for his sins.

And this is what I want to turn the Eye into. Having it be some otherworldly being who passes judgment from on high isn’t very scary, because only bad people will be harmed by it. Sure, we can say that the Eye is just as likely to kill you for shop-lifting as it is for carpet bombing orphanages, but in the end, no one really wants to write a story about a good person being punished for something slight. But what if the Eye was a being that preyed on feelings of guilt? Well, then it doesn’t matter how horrible you are– if you feel no guilt, if you’re an all-out sociopath, the Eye couldn’t care less about you. But if you’re a good person, who can’t stand to know you’ve done something wrong, then the Eye will come for you.

And that, I think, would lead to a much more interesting, and much more satisfying, story.

And in the end, that’s all it really comes down to: what makes a good story. That’s what the Fear Mythos is. It’s a collection of stories that we, as writers, choose to tell. And when we make a mistake, we fess up and fix it.

Hopefully this article was interesting and informative. If this is well-received, I may write up another one on how Servants are Made.

Lizard Bite, signing out.

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One thought on “Article: How Fears are Made

  1. DJay32 says:

    Brilliant, informative, wise. I still need to read House of Leaves sometime. The Empty City was probably one of your greatest and most creative inventions, if you ask me; it’s the only Fear to be a location in itself, and what a goddamn location it is! The modern aesthetics of a city present a sense of familiarity, and the– okay why am I rambling about this

    I still think The Intrusion could have potential, but I don’t particularly see it, myself. Yes, bugs are scary to me. But it’s a phobia; their concepts don’t terrify me, just their appearances and movement. So all this means is, if you ever made an Intrusion picture or video, I wouldn’t watch it. You can’t rely on a phobia alone to make a Fear, just as you can’t create a Fear just by picking a fear and working with it.

    Though that’s not to say you have bad ideas. The Eye has potential, and from what you described for Thirteenth Apostle, you seem to have nailed it. I’ve already expressed my love for The Empty City (hell, Rapture is primarily an Empty City story). And The Archangel is just a classic horror monster. Even though it’s not particularly one of my favourite Fears, I still have much respect for it and find myself writing him into stories naturally.

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